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Short Story Competition 2023 Adult Category Runner-up Michele Attias ‘An Affair to Remember’

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

It was almost midnight on the coldest night of the year when Jacques Visconti stood at New York's Grand Central station. For a split second he yearned to be nestled in his cosy Parisian apartment in Rue Saint-Rustique. He took three sips of espresso hoping it would calm him down, as a recovering alcoholic with five years of sobriety under his belt, he couldn't resort to a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Momentarily, he was overcome by a wave of regrets, they should have done this sooner.

Jacque's mind drifted to the moment he met enigmatic Lucille when she arrived from Chicago as a backing dancer for his rock band 'Terranoire.' Unlike the other French backing dancers who were insipid and lacklustre, Lucille's intoxicating presence, thick American drawl and carefree nature were both welcoming and refreshing. Before the rock tour was over, Jacques had become bewitched by the raven-haired beauty.

On the last night of November, a few hours before Lucille returned to Chicago, they watched the 1950's classic 'An affair to remember' in his plush hotel suite. He was not enamoured with spending the evening watching a black and white movie, but succumbed, watching with delight as Lucille sat mesmerised during the long-awaited reunion of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr on the top floor of the Empire State Building.

Lucille turned to Jacques as if a bright idea had descended from the heavens above. With a glint in her blue eyes whispered, "How about we reunite in New York's Grand Central station at midnight on this exact day in ten years' time?" Jacques was silent as he digested her request. Lucille continued sheepishly, "I'm terrified of heights, so the top of the Empire State building is out of the question." Jacques was overtaken by the anticipation in her eyes and realised that giving an affirmative reply would soften the blow of their final farewell. He whispered gently, "Lucille, I promise you that I will be there." not quite understanding the commitment he had bound himself to.

The echo of that promise had reverberated through his life when Jacque's status as a French rock star run its course. As his alcohol addiction took root, he married the glamorous socialite Claudette within eight weeks of meeting her, he wasn't sure he was even sober when he proposed. They were divorced three years later; the only fruit of the disastrous nuptials were his son Dominic who he shared every other weekend. In Lucille's life, her bohemian nature spilled out into her choices, living in places which were off the beaten track and never remaining in a city long enough to keep up regular contact with him.

Jacques looked at his watch for the eighth time that evening. He was ill dressed for the cold weather. In his desire to impress Lucille and not appear like the drab, middle aged man he saw staring back at him in the mirror, he wore his favourite blue shirt over a stylish pair of jeans, Calvin Klein leather shoes and a Ralph Lauren sports jacket, smart casual for a night out. Jacques had a reputation to uphold as a sharp dresser, shopping only in the best upmarket stores near the Champs Elysees and refusing to show up to a ten-year reunion wearing a woollen jumper, fleece pants and fur boots.

As he paced up and down Grand Central station, he noticed the temperature drop, and he shivered, rubbing his hands together to keep warm. He wondered if Lucille would keep her end of the promise, after all, he was a failed rockstar, no longer being snapped by paparazzi appearing dishevelled on the front page of newspapers. He was a middle-aged man who had made disastrous choices, but being the eternal optimist, he felt deserving of another shot at happiness.

In the distance he suddenly noticed a frail looking figure walking in slow motion, and he squinted his eyes towards that direction. The slim frame walked with a limp, a walking stick aiding each step. As the figure approached, he saw the familiar face, the piercing blue eyes. The beanie hat on her head, where her luscious black locks used to be. Lucille's athletic figure and the sashaying of her hips had been replaced by a stilted walk, looking fragile like a porcelain figurine that would snap at any moment.

Jacques shouted "Lucille!" and in that moment the years that had passed between them evaporated into thin air. He run towards her, hugging her thin frame carefully as if she was a crystal vase teetering over the edge of a windowsill. They looked at each other and instinctively guessing his first question, Lucille pulled away awkwardly and said, "There was an accident a year ago." She looked at his face for

confirmation of concern and continued speaking, "l was driving the car during a heavy downpour, swerved into the corner of Madison Avenue, everything else is a blur." Jacques spoke slowly trying to process her words, "l had no idea, I wish I could've been there for you."

She looked up at him, hope engraved in her eyes and said, "Do you think we can still be Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr?" Her lips opening into the cheeky smile he remembered fondly. Jacques grinned and replied, "Lucille, the worlds a stage, and with you and me as the actors, everything is possible." Hearing the familiar French accent she loved warmed her heart, and despite her stilted walk, in her mind imagined she still moved with sass, because with Jacques by her side, she could do and be anything.

In that moment she didn't feel the debilitating effects of walking each step, and he no longer felt like a failing middle aged rock star. He whispered, "l think this might be the start of a beautiful affair," as they linked arms and walked outside Grand Central station, not caring where they went, as long as they were together.

Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:

Runner-up: Michelle Attias with An Affair to Remember. Michelle’s story of a superannuated rock star and a limping back dancer is very poignant and sobering. Jacques and Lucille had the entertainment world at their feet. They enjoyed the limelight and inevitably became lovers. Before they part, they make a vow to meet up in ten years’ time, seemingly unaware of how the passage of time and the vicissitudes of life would impact on their appearance, character and mood. The heart of this riveting story is the meeting ten years later in New York Grand Central Station. Jacques is now a recovering alcoholic, divorced and no longer pursued by the paparazzi. In fact, he is a ‘failed rock star.’ Lucille, in turn, is a ghost of her former self, frail, limping and with thinning hair. A car accident has only aggravated the ravages of time.

However, the former stars are unfazed. Drawing inspiration from their favourite film, An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, they decide to renew their old passion. Their encounter, so many years later, has energised the two stars and given them the confidence to launch into a new phase of their relationship.

It's comforting to learn that we can still rise from the dust, that time cannot be defeated, but it can be held in abeyance and age and illness must not have the final word. A story with a very positive message. Well done!

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